10 January 2003 16:36 [Source: ICIS news]PRAGUE (CNI)--The US has asked the Czech Republic to reinforce its chemical warfare unit in Kuwait, according to Czech defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik.
The Czech cabinet will now discuss the change in mandate of its chemical unit and the US requests on Monday (13 January), before putting them to a vote in both houses of parliament.
The country has had a 250-strong contingent of experts in countering chemical and biological attacks in the Gulf since the spring (Q1/2) of 2002.
The Czech government recently announced that it would keep its unit in Kuwait until at least the end of March, at the request of the US and its allies. It is now considering adding a further 100 troops to the unit after being officially approached by the US.
Czech officials said today that the US had also asked for permission for US planes to fly over the Czech Republic and for ground units to cross Czech territory if necessary.
The issue of whether to commit to a possible attack on Iraq is likely to see divisions across the political spectrum, with many deputies – including those in the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) – against Czech involvement in any action which does not carry a United Nations (UN) mandate.
The Czech defence ministry declined to comment other than to say the issue was a matter for parliament to decide. The ministry did, however, say that in principle the chemical unit could widen its operation from Kuwait to other unspecified countries in the Gulf region.
The ministry has not said where the anti-chemical unit could serve, but deputy foreign minister Alexandr Vondra mentioned Turkey as a possibility.
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